I have just finished reading The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland. It’s Mariatu’s story of how her life in Sierra Leone was changed when the rebel army attacked her village and cut off her hands. The back cover says it’s a story of “immense courage, resilience, and hope.”
Reading of the atrocities of war, and the sadness and anger that naturally follow, it was difficult to imagine how hope could possibly emerge. (Not only did Mariatu Kamara lose her hands, she had a baby when she was only twelve years old after being raped.) But knowing that Annick Press would not publish a book that left its subject or its readers in despair, I read on.
The courage and resilience of this young woman is truly inspiring. I was especially moved by her description of meeting former child soldier Ishmael Beah in Toronto, when he was there promoting A Long Way Gone.
After six years of living in Canada, Mariatu Kamara returns to Sierra Leone. She can’t give up the life she knows is available to her in Canada. But seeing living conditions of loved ones in Sierra Leone, now through the lens of having lived in Canada, how could she just “look forward”, as they all urged her to do? It’s impossible not to have profound admiration and respect for how she resolves this dilemma.
I hope high school English teachers are recognizing what an eye-opening and enriching experience reading the two books – A Long Way Gone and The Bite of the Mango – would be for their students. (Teaching guides are available online for both books.)
I also hope booksellers are placing copies of The Bite of the Mango on both young adult and adult bookshelves. It would be a shame for any of its potential readers to miss it.